Saturday, October 1, 2011

Adapting to and surviving in new environments with infinite horizons

I truly am a digital immigrant. I like keeping one foot in the analog world while wiggling my toes in the digital world. They’re both quite real and uniquely wonderful – as well as complementary. ‘Home computers’ were introduced the year I graduated from high school. Realizing that was about as shocking as hearing my favorite songs on an ‘oldies’ station a decade (or so) ago… How dare they label my generation! If you read last month’s post, you may have returned to see if I was trying to shock unassuming readers: black-eyed peas? Seriously? Absolutely!

While some religiously champion digital evolution as the solution to the world’s problems, I maintain there is an urgent need for blending tools and strategies – especially in education. Existing and emerging technologies offer empowering tools for meaningful learning. Simply participating in this blog, actively or passively, is evidence that we’ve survived the information revolution. Technology has infiltrated the ranks of higher education even as explained in an enlightening Adobe whitepaper called The Silent Transformation. Eleven years into the 21st Century, what do your students really need to learn? What do you think is the best way to teach them? Both teachers and students must adapt to a changing environment if they want to survive!

Adaptation means survival in any environment on every level. Critical issues impacting our own physical development are detailed on the EPA’s Health and Safety webpage: “children may suffer disproportionately from environmental health risks and safety risks; as we age, our bodies are more susceptible to hazards from the environment which may worsen chronic or life threatening conditions”. Although not as rapid as iPhone releases, the relatively contemporary story of the pepper moths provides a perfect example of how such change can happen in the real world. The Moth Mothers activity demonstrates why the pepper moth had to adapt to survive England’s industrial revolution. Click here to download the ‘analog’ activity detail.

I typically use this activity as a summative assessment, but it’s equally useful as an introductory assignment. Because the effects of environmental changes often occur slowly and slightly over extensive time, students may not realize the link(s) to biological evolution. Few species can adapt quickly enough to survive the rapid impacts of human activity. Leveraging digital advances, I found a comprehensive Flash interactive that beautifully complements this hands-on physical simulation on Mr. Tevis' Class Web. Click here to review the Peppered Moths: Natural Selection in Black and White. This would be a great alternative accommodation for anyone who had to miss out on the lesson.

Instructor Notes: Unfortunately, it’s probably pretty easy to make Moth Mothers personally relevant today. Fortunately, there are many instances of coordinated efforts to shift the balance of the systems involved. For example, because more kids have asthma and other environmentally induced diseases, regulations and policy are critical to our health and safety as global citizens.

Back to the realm of teaching and learning, I love that this ‘science’ lesson affords so many interdisciplinary opportunities. That’s the exciting part about these ‘interesting times’… Case in point: “The mission of the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society is to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in biology, education and the cognitive and developmental sciences. Science and practice will benefit from rich, bi-directional interaction”. Hands-on, inquiry-based activities that simulate or model environmental issues and concepts are more than applicable than ever today… and the research says that “Action Based Learning” (friend ‘em on facebook) is more critical than ever today. Seriously! See for yourself how well it works with any age learner!